01 October 2011

Песня о Друге

I had to work hard to persuade myself to get out for a run this morning, especially as it had rained overnight. Yesterday I had travelled from London to Moscow, to give some tuition in intellectual property to Russian students reading for external London University LLBs (and doing Russian law degrees in parallel), and my old friend Viktor had met me and taken me for a typical Russian dinner followed by a short tour of some Moscow sights - particularly Red Square.

He had suggested that a suitable route for a run would be the Bul'varnoe Kol'tso, which is an inner ring road comprising a series of boulevards. I had been sceptical, which further increased my inclination to stay in bed: but having forced myself to run it, I can say that Moscow is one of the best cities in which I have ever run. Most of the distance was in the middle of the boulevards, which resemble elongated parks. Traffic free until you come to the end of one and the beginning of another - and there might be an extensive open square to negotiate between them. Russian drivers have an extraordinary attitude to traffic lights - red is not even regarded as advisory - and speed limits, although come to think of it I have seen none indicated. It seems that if you have a collision you must leave your car where it is, placing a warning triangle behind it (but so close as to afford no advance warning). You can then wait hours for the police to show up. If you have contrived to connect with another car side-to-side, a very difficult form of collision to engineer but one at which Muscovites appear to excel, this means two cars in the middle of the road, two triangles, and huge disruption. Still, it wouldn't bother me  if I was trying to run through it. The drag down  Tverskaya was less impressive: perhaps it lost its central reservation a while ago and became a 12 lane road - but any road that leads to Red Square has to have something to commend it. I was in fact off course here, and realise I should have gone past the Kropotkinskaya metro station - there is a name to conjure with! - but I wanted to do Red Square in the morning light. It did not disappoint, but my Blackberry did, refusing on account of damp (that is, sweat) to take photos.


After several hours talking intellectual property to a very switched-on and impressive bunch of students, I rounded off the day with a theatre trip. Two hours of which I scarcely understood a single word, but it was magical and exuded a real sense of occasion. Billed as a spectacle, it was the show put together by Yuri Lubimov as a memorial to Vladimir Vysotsky, which the authorities banned in 1980 after Visotsky's death (they also prohibited a public funeral, anxious that it would empty out the Olympic stadium: I believe it did anyway). They tried to put it on in 1981 and the letter from Andropov, then head of the KGB, telling them not to do so was reproduced in the programme.
The cast sang and recited poems, and stood or sat while recordings of the man himself were played from the back of the theatre: the only thing on the set was a block of theatre seats, suspended from chains so they could be raised and lowered and on which the cast could when appropriate sit, as if at a Vysotsky concert, and also a very large sheet which could be used to cover the seats and on one occasion many of the cast too. There's more about the evening here if you are interested, including the cast list at least one of whom is a very famous Russian actor - and a great political mimic, it seems. Even I recognised his Medvedev and Putin.
When the cast came to the front of the stage to take their bows, having been sitting on the floor leaning against the back wall, they left a guitar standing against the wall. Attendants and (I think) members of the audience handed the actors bouquets, which is not in itself unusual, but in greater numbers than I have ever seen: and the actors took the flowers to the back of the stage and piled them by the guitar, which it became clear was there to represent Visotsky. It soon disappeared under the pile, and I could hardly imagine a more touching tribute. Thirty years on, too. Combined with a memorable run, it made it a day on which to be glad to be alive.
To round off the day, the evasive lens fell out of my glasses as I set off to cross a Moscow street on the way back to the hotel. Viktor recruited three local lads who obligingly moved their car so the headlights illuminated the area, and eventually one of them fished the lens out of a puddle. A memorable end to a very memorable day.

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